In the atrium of City Hall on March 8, 2002, the city of Sarasota honored the late Ken Thompson by dedicating a three-dimensional glass sculpture in memory of the longtime city manager. Luma Cloud, by Ray King, is composed of hundreds of laminated glass squares suspended on cables over a reflecting pool, creating a cloud-like pattern of stunning colors that changes depending on the position of the viewer. Jubilantly acclaimed at its dedication, King's Cloud is a fascinating artwork-colorful, mystical and engaging. For the city's public art committee, it's Cloud Nine!
The city of Sarasota jumped on the public art bandwagon in 1989, when an official Public Art Committee was established. Commissioners were keen to enhance the town's reputation as an art city by acquiring contemporary works of art for prominent locations. Although it wasn't then called "public art," Sarasotans had enjoyed a degree of municipal décor since John Ringling began dressing up boulevards and parkways with classical bronze and limestone figures in the 1920s. In the '60s, more contemporary imagery started appearing, including the impressive sculptures of Jack Cartlidge, whose heroic copper piece, Nobody's Listening, was installed on the lawn of the new city hall in 1967.
By the 1990s, the urban landscape had gained some other notable works. The colorful Rainbow Bridge, a private commision by Naples artist James Neal Renfro, was installed in 1988 in front of SARASOTA Magazine's Oak Street headquarters; the same year, Linda Howard created Double Spiral Arch for the courtyard at the Jane Cook library at New College; and in 1991, the entrance to the Van Wezel was highlighted by David E. Davis' Applause, a contemporary metal sculpture donated by Carolyn Michel and her mother, Barbara Hirsch York, in memory of longtime Sarasota arts patron Maurice Hirsch.
Directed to focus their attention on the central business and theater and arts districts, the committee members chose Five Points Park for their initial project; and after a nationwide search, Athena Tacha, an Ohio artist of fine reputation, won the commission.
In 1992, Athena Tacha's commission was completed and introduced at Five Points Park. Titled Memory Path, the artwork is a low wall faced with a series of polished, red granite tiles on which references to Sarasota's history were sandblasted. The Path undulates through the center of the green space in a double "V" formation, following the incline of the berm. Tacha's concept was intriguing, relating the work to its location both historically and environmentally, but the execution of the piece was disappointing-especially to the artist-and it was not well received. Worst of all, perhaps, it dampened for a time the commissioners' enthusiasm for the program.
But the art committee persevered-new members replacing the originals as they rotated off the board -and 10 years later the city is rejoicing in the warm reception for Luma Cloud. There are now more than 38 sculptures in the public collection, including new works in Five Points Park-a good place to start a tour of what's gone up artwise in the past decade.
In 2000, city commissioners approved the art committee's recommendation for the purchase of six contemporary sculptures by Florida artists. Bruce White's sword-like Samurai (anodized aluminum), Bob Fetty's free-flowing bronze Interlocking Love, and the double spiral Omphalos (painted steel), by Richard Beckman were added to the display in Five Points Park. A more recent addition is Glenna Goodacre's five-figured bronze grouping, Olympic Wannabes, which is on the property as a loan-cum-donation.
The committee added distinction to the city's collection with the purchase of a work by the late Doris Leeper, a founder of the Atlantic Center for the Arts and a 1999 inductee into the Florida Artist Hall of Fame. Leeper's Garden Sculpture 3, initially placed in the park, has been relocated to the median at Pineapple and Lemon Avenues. Nearby, Nancy Goodheart Mathews' colorful Silent Daughter mermaid fountain bubbles merrily, a popular addition to the neighborhood.
David Peirick's whimsical painted steel piece, Exotica #10, the fifth of the millennium acquisitions, is in a clearing on Lower Main Street near Palm Avenue; and the sixth, Mr. Red, David Langley's painted aluminum horse (relocated from Lower Main), is in the median at Gulf Stream and Palm Avenues. Up a block, at Cocoanut and Palm, stands the bronze, winged figure of The Butterfly Lady, by August Moreau, a gift.
The park at Gulfstream and Main features both the Doughboy War Memorial, restored by Frank Colson, and the Sarasota Historic Portals, created by Virginia Hoffman. (The portals are slated to be relocated to the historic Post Office as part of the observance of the city's centennial.) Across U.S. 41 on Island Park are the Dolphin Fountain (privately commissioned and subsequently donated to the city), and the children's fountain A Family Place, also a donated project, whose sculptures are the work of Papo Cobian.
East along Main Street from Five Points is a sculpturally diverse trio of artwork, also all donations: John Dehn's painted metal People's Place is, appropriately, outside Patrick's; Jack Dowd's swinging bronze Father of Golf nods to Sarasota history at Links Plaza; and Adventure Mountain, by James Davidson, stands in the center of the Kane Plaza roundabout. On South Washington Boulevard, at the corner of Golf Street, a stainless steel, 14-foot abstract sculpture by Vicky Randall will be installed in front of the new Oncology/Hematology Building.
Newly added to the city's collection on Sarasota's North Trail are three bright Yellow Runners by Jorge Blanco that sprint along the median north of Sixth Street. Encore by the late Saul Howard is in the playground at G.WIZ; and the neighboring Van Wezel grounds, in addition to Applause, display a bronze Sprite (artist unknown to the city) and Glenna Goodacre's bronze grouping Facts of Life, a recent donation for the new patio wall.
Overlooking the Trail in front of the Municipal Auditorium is the refurbished 1938 landmark Hazzard Fountain, designed by architect Frank Martin and built by Louis Larsen, an artist of national reputation. (A gift to the city from R.P. Hazzard, the fountain, a lighted beauty, was later given by the city to the Ringling Museum and installed on the mall along with an eye-catching Neptune sculpture from the museum's collection. The fountain was returned to the city in the early 1990s.)
The Indian Beach/Sapphire Shores neighborhood has benefited from three recent donations: The Buck, carved in green marble by Zimbabwe artist John Type, rests in the median at Ainsley Place and Bay Shore Road; a huge pastel concrete fish, The One That Got Away, by Charles Meyrick, is in Sun Circle Park at Acacia Drive; and a graceful Linda Howard aluminum sculpture, Synergy, dresses the corner of Bay Shore Road and Mecca Drive.
St. Armands Key holds a few more of the city's artworks and many of the Ringling Museum's-with some questions of ownership arising. (Listed on both inventories at the moment are two bronze sculptures, Mercury and The Discus Thrower, both of which were installed on the Circle more than 70 years ago by John Ringling.)
Presently on loan from the museum-and prominently placed in the medians of John Ringling Boulevard-are a Spanish explorer, Bacchus, a lady standing in a shell (all limestone), and a robed man, Christopher Columbus, a handsome sitting lion with shield, and a lady with no face (all marble). Among the 13 limestone figures in the medians of North and South Boulevard of Presidents are a man with beard, a female warrior, a draped standing female with snake and dog, and a standing male nodding. A charming cluster of young boys watches the intersection of Adams, Monroe and Fillmore Drives, and a standing lion guards the south quadrant of St. Armands Park. (A few other museum sculptures are in the city proper, including a much-graffitied draped nude in the median at McClellan Parkway and Okobee Drive. Maintenance, vandalism and theft are problems of the loan program.)
Sarasota's circus history is memorialized in St. Armands Park with the Circus Ring of Fame, a series of bronze wagon wheels embedded in the sidewalk honoring celebrities of the circus world-an annual tribute originated by Larry Marthaler, former head of the Sarasota Convention and Visitors Bureau. The wheels (designed by Frank Hopper) were first awarded in 1988 to honorees Clyde Beatty, Merle Evans, Lou Jacobs, the Wallenda Troupe, and John Ringling North. Near the ring is a pedestal with a bronze bust of John Ringling by Ethelia Patmagrian. Overlooking the park from the south median of the Boulevard of Presidents, a standing figure titled John Ringling by Tony Lopez was commissioned to commemorate the 75th anniversary of St. Armands in 2001.
Farther north along the Boulevard of Presidents at the corner of North Washington Drive is a steel sculpture by James Tucker, donated to the city as the Bob Beardsworth Memorial, in honor of the late designer and St. Armands activist.
Returning to the downtown area, the Gallery of Patriots in Gillespie Park is somewhat of an oddity in the city's sculpture inventory. Created by the Hispanic-American Civic Association in 1977, it consists of two groupings-14 portrait busts on pedestals forming a rectangle and eight more in a semi-circle nearby. The memorial includes representatives from most Latin-American countries as well as United States Presidents George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.
Finally, City Hall exhibits a number of works by Jack Cartlidge in addition to Nobody's Listening. The artist's Earth Mother (done in ceramic clay) reclines on the front lawn, and other pieces are near the hall and along the walk to the parking lots. Another Cartlidge sculpture, An American Allegory, is in Charles Ringling Park, better described as the lawn west of the County Administration Building across from the Post Office.
To augment the display of permanent acquisitions, the city recently undertook a burgeoning loan program. Dennis Kowal's Photon II (painted steel) has been installed on the waterfront south of the Van Wezel; Jorge Blanco's steel and enamel Positively Red is nearby behind the patio wall; and Selfmade Man, an aluminum sculpture by Stanley Marcus, highlights the bridge leading to G.WIZ.
Loans downtown include Marcus' aluminum Dynaform I on the northeast corner of Palm and Cocoanut Avenues; Turnabout (aluminum) by Bruce White in the center median (south side) at the Cocoanut/First intersection; a bright painted steel piece, Men are from Ohio and Woman are from Indiana, by Sanford Friedman, near the southwest corner of Main and Mira Mar; and two painted steel sculptures, Totem by John Dehn and Sculpture by David Peirick, in the right-of-way on the northeast corner of Main Street and Lemon Avenue. A bronze ball player, Bases Loaded by Jack Dowd, is edifying patrons at Ed Smith Stadium.
Five years after the city began its public art program, the county established the County Art in Public Places Committee to acquire art for new or remodeled public buildings. The CAPP program, administered in partnership with the Sarasota County Arts Council, is an appointed panel headed by original appointee and longtime chairman, Eleanor Merritt Darlington. Four commissions have been awarded to date and another project is underway.
Just Browsing, a kinetic sculpture by Tim Prentice, was installed in 1998 beneath the dome of the new Selby Library on First Street. The fluid mobile is composed of hundreds of aluminum plates loosely linked together in eight triangular shapes. These perfectly balanced banners, hung at different levels, gleam with reflected light from both the dome and the balcony's torchieres and perform an ever-changing aerial ballet choreographed by air currents.
Indoor art was mandated for the county's Judicial Center, where CAPP members were limited to a trio of seven-by-10 foot niches inside the lobby when they tackled the public art requirement for the new building in 1997. Eventually a muralist, Richard Haas, was chosen; and he created a trompe l'oeil triptych with a central figure of Justice flanked by a garden courtyard and a lake.
Sculptor William Tarr's bronze column, Spirit of Sarasota, was commissioned for the administration building on Ringling Boulevard in 1998. Seventeen feet tall and faced with geometric shapes, the handsome piece distinguishes the entrance to the building and makes a solid statement.
For a number of years the county board has been assisting the Selby Foundation with the commission of an outdoor sculpture for the Selby Library. After some controversial decisions and rescisions, a proposal by Italian sculptor Bruno Lucchesi was selected. Now completed, the bronze family group, Sharing, is the latest addition to the downtown art scene.
In January 2002, Malcolm Robertson of Glenrothes, Scotland, was the first choice of the CAPP committee in the sculpture competition for the new Fruitville Road library. The artist's proposal was called Open Book Gateway, an outdoor structure, 10 to 12 feet high, described as a "self-supporting gazebo-like structure composed of rolled sheet steel 'pages,' the pages to have a see through quality with profile cut texts." County board members eagerly await the sculpture's completion.
A national call to artists has gone out for another sculpture for the county Judicial Center. This work, expected to be a substantial piece, will be located outside the building on the front lawn close to the steps.
The city public art committee also is contemplating a call to artists. With $70,000 in the kitty, it hopes that this art-loving community will be treated to something with a real "wow" factor.
The city of Sarasota defines public art as "the creative application of skill and taste by artists to the production of permanent tangible objects according to aesthetic principles." That's a pretty broad definition, one that allows for even more diversity than we currently have. As public art programs have proliferated throughout the country in the last quarter century, projects in other cities have run a gamut from light fixtures and subway murals to gloriously painted life-sized plaster cows (Chicago), alligators (Naples) and geckos (Orlando).
Now celebrating 25 years of its program, Miami's projects include A Walk on the Beach, Phase I, a half-mile-long walkway at Miami International Airport of dark gray terrazzo scattered with mother-of-pearl and embedded with 2,000 cast bronze elements depicting the shells, seaweed and marine forms found on the beach.
For that kind of artistic dynamic, Sarasota County Arts Council head Patricia Caswell suggests private sector partnerships. For well-endowed private citizens who appreciate the richness that public art can offer to all the members of a community and agree that Sarasota needs to regain a preeminent position as a visual art community, that would be a lasting legacy indeed.
Sidebar/SEASON OF SCULPTURE
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SEASON FOR ART
In its second year, the Sarasota Season for Sculpture promises more art and national exposure.
It isn't rocket science to make use of our natural amenities to advance our artistic cause. Sarasota's bayfront is a natural setting for large artwork; and the Sarasota Season of Sculpture, which premiered an inaugural show of 18 sculptures in 2000, is returning for an expanded second season this fall. The waterfront gallery will include more sculptures-22 works are planned-and has added more prestigious names, including John Chamberlain, Albert Paley and John David Mooney, to the list of participating artists.
The organization responsible for this privately funded endeavor was founded by Jill Kaplan and Bruce White, who saw the potential and kept doggedly pursuing it until they convinced a sufficient number of local patrons-and the city-to back their idea. This year, an expanded agenda as well as exhibition schedule (Nov. 17-May 31, 2003) will focus the attention of the art world on Sarasota. A docent program is being organized, with tours and educational programs for all age groups planned to continue throughout the exhibition. And a $16,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts will fund an International Sculpture Symposium Dec. 6-8, at the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art.